Paying Attention

When she invited me to join her for a walk down a dirt road, I knew Jinnie Mae and I would make some wonderful discoveries, but had no idea what begged to be noticed.

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We cruised along at a faster pace than normal as we chatted . . . and then . . . we slowed . . . down. And that’s when the world poured forth its graces.

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Beside a small stream, we were in the land of numerous ebony jewelwing damselflies, their metallic green bodies, beady black eyes and jewel-outlined wings showing brilliantly as they flitted about.

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We noticed Jack-in-the-Pulpit growing strong, proud and tall,

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swamp candles lighting up the water,

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heal-all beginning to bloom,

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and waxy-petaled pyrola flowers with styles curved below like an elephant’s trunk.

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We stopped by a beaver pond and decided they have moved on,

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but their works were still evident.

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Though the lodge may be abandoned by beavers,

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it appeared that someone had stopped by.

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On the other side of the beaver dam, royal ferns decorated the stream in their shrub-like manner.

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Their fertile fronds posed like crowns above their heads, bespeaking their royalty.

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With their unique structure, there is really nothing else that resembles the royal fern.

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Because we were once again by the water, we realized the jewelwings were abundant–though they seemed more blueish in color here than further down the stream. Was it the lighting?

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Beside the tranquil stream, they flittered and fluttered, their wings like sails over iridescent bodies, and occasionally they settled on vegetation for a photo call.

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Others also settled.

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We pulled ourselves away–or actually, Jinnie Mae gently nudged me away and we continued our journey back, certain that we’d see sights we missed on the way down the road. There were Indian cucumbers with multiple flowers–the most I’d ever seen . . . until Jinnie May pointed out that it was really two plants. Oops.

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But still, we found one with at least four blossoms, all in various stages.

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She told me we’d probably see an Eastern black swallowtail.

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And we did.

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Though it’s not time for spotted wintergreen to flower yet,

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we found its seed pods atop tall stalks. For me, this was a plant I don’t believe I’ve ever seen before. (According to Maine Natural Areas Program’s Rare Plant Fact Sheet, Chimaphila maculata is threatened in our state and has an S2 ranking) Will I see it in other places now that I’m aware of it? Time will tell.

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We noticed tender new wintergreen leaves, but it’s the berries that made us turn back for a closer look.

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The scarlet berries matured last summer, survived the winter without being eaten (they taste like wintergreen in the summer, but lose their flavor and sugar count over the winter months) and have now become enlarged.

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What really stopped us in our tracks–trailing arbutus. Last month, we were wowed by its gentle white and pale pink flowers. They’ve since faded to a rusty tone.

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And some have transformed into swollen round seed pods.

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The sepals have curled away to reveal the white fleshy fruit speckled with tiny brown seeds. It was well worth getting down on our knees to look through a hand lens–especially since ants, chipmunks and mice find these to be a delicacy so they may soon disappear.

Paying attention with and without a hand lens on a delightful spring day–we were once again thankful for the opportunity to notice . . . and to wonder.

 

Ambling Among the Ancients

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For most of my life, I didn’t pay attention to ferns. If anything, I waged a battle against them, trying like heck to yank their hairy or scaly rhizomes out of the ground.

That was then. This is now.

cinnamon fern

Fossil records show that ferns pre-date wildflowers. Our present-day species are relatives of those ancient plants, which may have been as tall as trees.

cinnamon ferns

Their stunning beauty stands out in the landscape. With a little practice, I begin to recognize their nuances. The royal fern family, Osmundaceae, features large sporangia making them easy to identify. And they prefer moist to wet growing conditions.

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The Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) that was in crosier form a few weeks ago, has fully developed.

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Those whitish hairs have turned a bit rusty colored along the stipe or stalk of each frond.

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Life is complex. (If my sons were to read this, they’d remind me that once again, I’m stating the obvious.) In the case of the ferns, the complexity comes from their life cycle. Unlike wildflowers, they don’t have blossoms and pollen for reproduction. Instead, they must release spores into the air. On some ferns, the sorus (a bunch of spore cases), occur on the underside of the leaves or fronds. Others, such as Cinnamon Ferns, produce separate leafless spore-bearing stalks, aka fertile fronds. Right now is the time to see them.

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Fresh fertile Cinnamon Fern fronds (try to say that five times fast) begin with a greenish-blue tinge.

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With maturity comes the cinnamon color for which they are named. Once a spore lands on suitable ground, it will germinate, and develop into a teeny, tiny, heart-shaped prothallus, which will carry out the sexual phase of the life cycle. Eventually, if all goes according to plan, the plant will emerge from the prothallus and the crosiers will develop into fronds.

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Just as tree leaves are different, so are fronds. In the case of the Cinnamon Fern, the ends taper to a point.

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A look alike of the Cinnamon Fern is the Interrupted Ferns (Osmunda claytoniana).  Well . . . almost. They have blunter ends.

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And on fertile fronds of the Interrupted Fern, the small brown pinnae or leaflets that contain the sporangia, interrupt the growth of the other pinnae along the stem.

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If the plant produces fertile fronds, they occur toward its center, while sterile fronds form an outer ring.

royal ferns

The third member of the family is the Royal Fern (Osmunda regalia). The leaves of the Royal Fern are distinct and look like those on a locust tree.

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As with all of these ferns, it’s important that they produce masses of sporangia, because only a few will actually survive. After the spores are released, they’ll turn from teal to light brown.

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One way to remember the name, Royal Fern, is that the fertile part occurs at the tip, resembling a crown on a king or queen.

Ebony Jewelwing

The day was topped off with a view of an Ebony Jewelwing.

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I’m thankful for moments spent ambling among the crown jewels of these ancient plants.